Presented on Friday, August 4 in the Gibson Theater on the Elmira College campus as the keynote speech for Elmira 2017: The Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. A meditation on Twain's weaponization of humor for social ends, and the lessons it bears for the present political moment. With special attention to Twain's use of vulgarity, and his gleeful demolition of norms. In our own era of political obscenity, what can Twain teach us about the power of profanity from below?
Ben Tarnoff is the author of The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature (Penguin, 2014). He also writes regularly for The Guardian on technology and politics, and is founder of Logic, a new magazine about technology.